Bible colleges like Moody Bible Institute often distinguish themselves from Christian colleges that focus on the liberal arts by emphasizing that their mission is to train students for “vocational” ministry or “full-time Christian service.” This does not mean that paid professionals are the only people doing ministry in the church or that most of the church serves Christ on a part-time basis. Instead, it is a helpful reminder that ministry is work.
For Paul serving the Lord involved “toil and hardship” (v. 9). This was true in two ways: in addition to the work of ministry, Paul also worked to support himself “in order not to be a burden to anyone.” Paul was a tentmaker, an occupation he shared with his colleagues Aquila and Priscilla (see Acts 18:2). He came from a region that was famous for producing high quality materials for making tents and probably learned his craft from his father. Tentmaking was a form of manual labor that required the Apostle to make a living by working hard with his hands (1 Cor. 4:12). Some criticized Paul for this practice (1 Cor. 9:3-7; 2 Cor. 11:7). But in Paul’s eyes, the work of ministry and the labor of tentmaking were two sides of the same effort devoted to Christ.
Paul’s motivation for working night and day was love. Indeed, love shaped all his behavior toward the Thessalonians. Paul cared for the Thessalonians the way a father cares for his children. Normally the parents provide for the needs of their children, not the other way around (cf. 2 Cor. 12:14). Although Paul had a right to expect support from those to whom he ministered, he preferred to provide for those needs by plying a trade. This served two purposes. It guaranteed that Paul would not be a financial burden to the Thessalonians. It also provided an example of the spiritual value of ordinary work in a cultural context where many thought that work was beneath them (2 Thess. 3:9).